menu

PURE SUGAR: Telling Stories of Grace

Last weekend was the culmination of a week filled with anger, pain and heartbreak that miraculously turned into a celebration of life.
Daniel Antonio Puac Calderón, 38 years old, was shot and killed this past Friday night as he was closing up his little cell phone store in Guatemala City.  We all knew him simply as Azucar (Sugar). Anyone who has ever met Azucar and witnessed the way he sweetened his neighborhood understood immediately the rationale behind his nickname.
Azucar lived his life in one of the most infamous neighborhoods in Guatemala City called “Sakerti.” Like so many others, he fell prey to the common traps of drugs, gangs and violence. A couple of years ago he hit the bottom and found himself at the drug rehabilitation program started and run by Pastor Erwin “Shorty” Luna.   Shorty has been a core member of our missional community for many years in Guatemala City, and one of the chaplains in a demonstration project focused on incarcerated gang members.
It was through his relationship with Shorty that Azucar encountered the message of the Gospel.  It radically and authentically transformed his life.  He was warned by many not to go back to Sakerti for fear that his past would catch up with him, but like Esther he had an “if I perish I perish” attitude and felt compelled to go back to his neighborhood despite the inherent dangers of doing so.
Azucar opened up his home for a Bible study for four people in the neighborhood. After a few months those four people grew into a couple dozen and to make room in his home, Azucar simply knocked out a wall. A few months later when the numbers doubled again, he knocked out another wall to make more room.
On Friday night he was gunned down in the middle of the neighborhood that he loved. There are many speculations as to who did it and why, but a week after the killing there is no police investigation and no suspects in custody.  As in virtually all violent homicides in Guatemala City amongst the poor and disenfranchized, impunity is all but assured for the perpetrators of such violence.  It is maddening beyond measure.
At the funeral last Monday in the General Cemetery of Guatemala, six buses jammed to the gills carted some 300 residents of the Sakerti community who had come to say good-bye to a special man who truly has sweetened each of their lives. I joined the procession carrying the casket to its final resting place in a huge wall of grave markings.  I recoiled in anger and wanted to scream BASTA YA (Enough is enough!). When will this violence ever stop? Where is justice in the face of such a terrible tragedy?
When the time of internment was concluded I lingered around the grave in the midst of that inner turmoil and met a friend of Azucar’s who had been a hired killer before Azucar entered his life and showed him another way.  I met another friend, Jairo, currently in the same drug rehabilitation program where Azucar had been given his second chance. Jairo shared with me how he had sustained his addiction for 25 years as a ringleader of a band of thieves that preyed on shop owners and small businesses. It was Azucar who had convinced him to leave that life and had personally brought him to meet Shorty and to get a new lease on life. At the memorial service this past Saturday night, I realized that these were just two of hundreds and hundreds of stories of people who had tasted the sweet sugar of scandalous grace as a result of the life of this one very special unsung hero in a very hard and “forsaken” neighborhood.  As I left for my car after the funeral was finally done, Pastor Shorty wiped the tears from his eyes, embraced me and said, “Danny was pure sugar man, he was pure sugar.”
I have no profound theological statements to share, just a deep sadness at the loss of an extraordinary life.  Daniel Antonia Puac Calderon sweetened the lives of many in a forsaken and violent neighborhood called Sakerti and he paid for it with his life. His is a life story that will not be forgotten and a legacy that will be celebrated by those of us who were profoundly blessed to call him our friend and teacher.
Azucar represents the best of the grassroots leaders that we have the distinct honor and privilege of serving around the world.  He will be profoundly missed.
Here is a three-minute tribute video made especially for Azucar’s family and the Sakerti community.  It was made by a friend who had the chance last year to meet Azucar, hear his story and walk through the streets of Sakerti with him.  It was shown at his memorial service this past Saturday night.
Joel Van Dyke, CTM Latin American Director

Author: Joel Van Dyke, CTM Latin American Director
Last weekend was the culmination of a week filled with anger, pain and heartbreak that miraculously turned into a celebration of life.
Daniel Antonio Puac Calderón, 38 years old, was shot and killed this past Friday night as he was closing up his little cell phone store in Guatemala City.  We all knew him simply as Azucar (Sugar). Anyone who has ever met Azucar and witnessed the way he sweetened his neighborhood understood immediately the rationale behind his nickname.
Azucar lived his life in one of the most infamous neighborhoods in Guatemala City called “Sakerti.” Like so many others, he fell prey to the common traps of drugs, gangs and violence. A couple of years ago he hit the bottom and found himself at the drug rehabilitation program started and run by Pastor Erwin “Shorty” Luna.   Shorty has been a core member of our missional community for many years in Guatemala City, and one of the chaplains in a demonstration project focused on incarcerated gang members.
It was through his relationship with Shorty that Azucar encountered the message of the Gospel.  It radically and authentically transformed his life.  He was warned by many not to go back to Sakerti for fear that his past would catch up with him, but like Esther he had an “if I perish I perish” attitude and felt compelled to go back to his neighborhood despite the inherent dangers of doing so.
Azucar opened up his home for a Bible study for four people in the neighborhood. After a few months those four people grew into a couple dozen and to make room in his home, Azucar simply knocked out a wall. A few months later when the numbers doubled again, he knocked out another wall to make more room.
On Friday night he was gunned down in the middle of the neighborhood that he loved. There are many speculations as to who did it and why, but a week after the killing there is no police investigation and no suspects in custody.  As in virtually all violent homicides in Guatemala City amongst the poor and disenfranchized, impunity is all but assured for the perpetrators of such violence.  It is maddening beyond measure.
At the funeral last Monday in the General Cemetery of Guatemala, six buses jammed to the gills carted some 300 residents of the Sakerti community who had come to say good-bye to a special man who truly has sweetened each of their lives. I joined the procession carrying the casket to its final resting place in a huge wall of grave markings.  I recoiled in anger and wanted to scream BASTA YA (Enough is enough!). When will this violence ever stop? Where is justice in the face of such a terrible tragedy?
When the time of internment was concluded I lingered around the grave in the midst of that inner turmoil and met a friend of Azucar’s who had been a hired killer before Azucar entered his life and showed him another way.  I met another friend, Jairo, currently in the same drug rehabilitation program where Azucar had been given his second chance. Jairo shared with me how he had sustained his addiction for 25 years as a ringleader of a band of thieves that preyed on shop owners and small businesses. It was Azucar who had convinced him to leave that life and had personally brought him to meet Shorty and to get a new lease on life. At the memorial service this past Saturday night, I realized that these were just two of hundreds and hundreds of stories of people who had tasted the sweet sugar of scandalous grace as a result of the life of this one very special unsung hero in a very hard and “forsaken” neighborhood.  As I left for my car after the funeral was finally done, Pastor Shorty wiped the tears from his eyes, embraced me and said, “Danny was pure sugar man, he was pure sugar.”
I have no profound theological statements to share, just a deep sadness at the loss of an extraordinary life.  Daniel Antonia Puac Calderon sweetened the lives of many in a forsaken and violent neighborhood called Sakerti and he paid for it with his life. His is a life story that will not be forgotten and a legacy that will be celebrated by those of us who were profoundly blessed to call him our friend and teacher.
Azucar represents the best of the grassroots leaders that we have the distinct honor and privilege of serving around the world.  He will be profoundly missed.
Here is a three-minute tribute video made especially for Azucar’s family and the Sakerti community.  It was made by a friend who had the chance last year to meet Azucar, hear his story and walk through the streets of Sakerti with him.  It was shown at his memorial service this past Saturday night.